Crisis of PH agriculture drives high inflation and economic slowdown

Research group IBON said that the recently released second quarter 2018 growth figures confirm the fundamental reason for rising food prices: underdeveloped agriculture from government neglect.

IBON said that while the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law is the most proximate driver of inflation within the Duterte administration’s control, the agricultural sector’s underdevelopment is the long-term reason for rising food prices.

The sector is in deep crisis with slowing growth, massive job losses, and domestic food supply insufficient for the growing population, the group added.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported drastically slowing growth in agriculture to 0.2 percent in the second quarter of 2018 from 6.3 percent in the same period last year.

First semester growth has correspondingly been dragged down to just 0.7 percent in 2018 from 5.6 percent in the first semester last year.

IBON noted that agricultural growth today falls far behind estimated population growth of 1.6 percent in 2018 and is well below the seven-decade historical average of 3.0 percent since 1948.

The agricultural slowdown is also reflected in massive job losses in the sector.

Agricultural employment collapsed by a huge 723,000 to just 9.8 million in April 2018 from 10.5 million in the same period in 2017, the group observed.

“The Duterte administration only gives lip service to improving agricultural productivity amid this severe crisis of agriculture in the countryside,” IBON executive director Sonny Africa said.

He said that the 2019 budget for Department of Agriculture (DA), for instance, is even proposed to be cut by Php862.3 million or a 1.7 percent decline to Php49.8 billion from Php50.7 billion in 2018.

These are comparable figures using the cash-based equivalent for 2018 with the cash-based budget for 2019.

“The administration also continues long-standing government neglect of the sector,” Africa added.

“The combined agriculture and agrarian reform budget is only 3.7 percent of the total proposed cash-based budget for 2019. This is less than the 3.8 percent share under the obligation-based budget for 2018 and even lower than the historical range of about 4 to 6 percent since the mid-1980s,” he explained.

According to Africa, proposals to increase food imports may be necessary but should only be a short-term emergency measure used with restraint if it has been established that there is a shortage.

It is possible for more food imports to lower prices but only if traders do not exploit tariff cuts just to increase their profits, he said.

“With importation, uncompetitive domestic producers not given enough support by the government will be displaced if trade protection for them is removed. Importation could also tend to worsen the trade deficit and add to pressures for the peso to depreciate,” Africa warned. # (IBON.org)

 

Rice tariffication to impoverish Filipino farmers more, Congress warned

Research group IBON raised concern over the current move by the House of Representatives (HOR) to lift the quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports and instead apply a 35 percent tariff on unlimited rice importation.

This will practically decrease farm gate prices, said IBON, but not necessarily lower retail rice prices as government claims.

Rice prices have increased for six straight months in 2018 – by Php2.53 from Php37.83 to Php40.36 for regular milled rice and by Php1.61 from Php42.58 to Php44.19 for well milled rice.

Consequently, government called for additional importation ahead of the schedule for the minimum access volume (MAV), a commitment under the World Trade Organization (WTO), and for Congress to rush the rice tariffication bill to lower the price of rice and ensure support for farmers.

IBON however said that as it is, the prevailing farm gate price of Php21 does not provide sufficient income from the farmers’ average production cost of Php12 per kilo.

Computing the average yield of 80 cavans of palay from one hectare, which is equivalent to 4,000 kilos, the rice farmer earns only Php36,000 until the next cropping.

Each cropping commonly lasts for six months, which means that the farmer’s average monthly income of Php6,000 is 76 percent short of the estimated monthly family living wage (FLW) of Php25,454 for a family of five.

If higher importation will decrease farm gate prices, the already insufficient income of farmers will fall further, IBON said.

Retail prices, on the other hand, will not likely automatically go down with increased rice imports that supposedly stabilize supply.

The years of highest importation are also the years of highest price increases, IBON observed.

For instance, when rice retail prices increased by Php7.99 per kilo during the rice crisis in 2008, the country was already importing an average of 1.8 million metric tons (MMT) for three years, an unprecedented volume since 2000s.

When the country imported even more at a yearly average of 2.2 MMT from 2008-2010, retail prices continued to increase by an annual average of Php1.20 until 2016.

The farmers are themselves rice consumers, IBON said, and will be affected badly by lower income yet continuously increasing rice retail prices.

The group added that Congress may be misguided for placing hopes on unlimited rice importation for stabilizing supply and prices while the rice industry remains dominated by an alleged trading cartel that dictates rice prices. #

TRAIN-driven rising cost of living makes wage hike urgent

Research group IBON said that tax-driven inflation is making the meager wages of poor Filipinos fall even further behind the rising cost of living.

The group said this makes it even more urgent for the government to immediately raise wages even as it revisits the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law behind the increase in consumption taxes.

The Duterte administration would be insensitive if it continues to resist the clamor for a decent national minimum wage, the group added.

IBON said that accelerating inflation has increased the family living wage (FLW) in the National Capital Region (NCR) and elsewhere.

IBON computations show that as of June 2018, a family of six needs Php1,175 to meet their basic needs, while a family of five needs Php979.

The FLW has increased by Php65 for a family of six and by Php54 for a family of five in June 2018 from the same period last year.

As it is, said the group, the NCR nominal minimum wage of Php512 is falling even further behind the rising cost of living.

The NCR nominal wage is only 44 percent of the FLW for a family of six, and 52% of the FLW for a family of five with a wage gap of Php663 (56 percent) and Php467 (48 percent), respectively.

The wage gap will continue to widen as inflation erodes the minimum wage.

Reacting to economic planning secretary Ernesto Pernia who said that a wage hike is not necessary, the group said that an immediate wage hike will help poor Filipinos cope with price spikes.

The Duterte administration can respond to the demand of labor groups for a Php750 national minimum wage.

IBON stressed that there are enough profits in the economy and among corporations to support the substantial increase in the minimum wage needed by workers and their families.

IBON also belied claims by the country’s economic managers in their joint statement on the June 2018 inflation that TRAIN’s reduction of personal income taxes, cash transfers, and allocation for free social and economic services “should help in coping with the rising prices of goods.”

The group said that their assertion that TRAIN “increased the take-home pay of 99 percent of income tax payers” is grossly deceitful because they know that only around 7.5 million or one-third (33 percent) of Filipino families are income tax payers.

Of these, some two million were already exempt from paying income tax even before TRAIN because they were only minimum wage earners.

This means that 17.2 million or over three-fourths (76 percent) of Filipino families suffer inflation but without any increased take-home pay.

IBON also said that the government should stop hyping TRAIN’s cash transfers because when they are ended by 2020 the higher prices of goods and services due to TRAIN will remain.

The group said that the Duterte administration’s unrepentant defense of TRAIN is daily affirmation of its callousness to the plight of tens of millions of poor Filipinos and its refusal to replace TRAIN with a more genuinely progressive tax package that is unafraid to tax the rich. #

 

Duterte’s TRAIN to blame for highest inflation in nearly 10 years — IBON

Research group IBON said that the government’s insistence on higher taxes especially on the poor is among the factors driving inflation rates to their highest in nearly a decade.

The group said that runaway inflation is due to the peso depreciation and rising global oil prices combined with the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.

Among these, TRAIN’s higher consumption taxes are directly within the government’s control and it can immediately arrest the tax-driven portion of inflation if it chooses to do so.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has reported a 5.2 percent inflation rate for the month of June.

The biggest price increases were in food, especially in corn, vegetables, meat and rice; alcohol and cigarettes; transport; housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels; and education.

This 5.2 percent inflation rate is more than double the 2.5 percent in the same period a year ago and four times the 1.3 percent inflation rate in June 2016 at the start of the Duterte administration.

The June inflation rate appears as the fastest in only five years because available estimates using the current base year [2012=100] are only until 2013.

But IBON noted that inflation today would already be the fastest in nearly a decade, or since March 2009, using inflation data according to the previous base year [2006=100] as an approximation.

Sonny Africa, IBON executive director, explained that the TRAIN-triggered increase in consumption taxes, especially on fuel products, is an inflation factor immediately within the government’s control.

“The Duterte administration’s insistence on TRAIN makes it directly accountable for the highest inflation in almost ten years,” said Africa, “and its pushing the higher taxes last year amid already rising global oil prices and a depreciating peso only underscores its insensitivity to the poor.”

Africa stressed that the runaway inflation hits poor Filipinos the hardest because their incomes are so low already that any price increase means they will be consuming less.

Moreover, food spending accounts for over half the expenses especially of the poorest households so that food prices are rising even faster than other commodities is particularly alarming.

The poorest are hit worst, Africa said, adding, “The cumulative impact of high inflation is that the poor will eat less, walk more, forego spending on medicines and treatment, scrimp on their utilities, and have nothing for emergencies.”

In the short-term, government can suspend TRAIN to moderate inflation and provide relief to millions of poor Filipinos. Even better, it can work towards eventually reforming the tax reform package to become genuinely progressive rather than regressive and anti-poor, said Africa.

Africa added that the government can also take measures to moderate inflation over the longer term. It can manage the impact of rising global oil prices through responsible regulation of the oil industry.

Arresting the peso’s steady decline will, he said, require a more comprehensive approach.

 

This includes identifying and overcoming: the long-standing agricultural and industrial backwardness at the root of the country’s chronic trade deficit; the over-reliance on overseas remittances for foreign exchange; and the over-reliance on foreign debt and investment. #

Group to MWSS: Show us the numbers

The Water for the People Network (WPN) expressed dismay that the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System – Regulatory Office (MWSS-RO) would not readily reveal the numbers involving water companies’ petitions for tariff increases in public consultations that the MWSS-RO itself convened this week.

The group said that by doing so, the government agency effectively hindered the consumers’ right to know.

Instead of genuinely consulting the people, it seemed to be conditioning the public to blindly accept the impending water rate hikes based on the petitions of the Manila Water Company (Manila Water) and Maynilad Water Services Inc. (Maynilad), said the group.

The WPN is composed of groups and individuals promoting people’s control over water services and resources.

A concession agreement (CA) between government and water concessionaires warrants the rate rebasing process every five years.

The process pertains to the determination of new tariffs based on the Manila Water and Maynilad’s past and future expenses, as well as a rate of return that will allow the firms to recover their investments.

The MWSS-RO has conducted public consultations before and during the past rate rebasing periods purportedly to grasp the public pulse with regard to the implementation of new tariffs.

The private companies’ petitions have historically been approved, resulting in water rates increasing manyfold through the years, except during the 2013 rate rebasing period.

In September 2013, the MWSS prohibited Maynilad and Manila Water to collect their corporate income taxes and company incentives such as recreation and travel expenses through pass-on charges.

The rate rebasing results reflected amounts lower than both companies’ petitioned rates.

Teddy Casiño, WPN spokesperson, said, “Show us the numbers. If water regulators truly prioritize public interest and want consumers involved in the rate rebasing process, they should make information in Maynilad and Manila Water’s petitions readily available to the public. Otherwise, these public consultations are a PR gimmick.”

During this period’s rate rebasing public consultations, water regulators and the consultants they hired to review water concessionaries’ proposals were reluctant to share pertinent details such as the rate increases requested and basis for the rates such as company earnings, expenditures, and future expenses.

They were also hesitant to answer if questionable charges prohibited in the 2013 rate rebasing process were also included.

WPN said that without vital rate rebasing information from the MWSS-RO, water consumers will be left in the dark and made vulnerable to the water companies’ onerous fees.

The group urged water regulators to uphold their mandate to protect public interest and ensure that Maynilad and Manila Water will not pass on unwarranted expenses to already burdened water consumers. #

Stop water rates hikes until onerous fees resolved – WPN

Advocacy group Water for the People Network (WPN) is appealing to the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System – Regulatory Office (MWSS-RO) to halt the ongoing rate rebasing process that is expected to raise water rates in Metro Manila and its environs, saying the basis for determining future water rates remains unresolved.

Concessionaires Maynilad and Manila Water continue to contest the MWSS-RO’s 2013 decision to prohibit water companies from passing on their corporate income tax and other questionable expenses to consumers.

Both companies took to international arbitration to protest government’s denial of their petitioned rate hikes, with Maynilad demanding government to pay Php72 billion in lost revenues and Manila Water demanding Php10 billion. Both cases are still pending in the courts.

WPN said that pending resolution of both controversies, any rate rebasing scheme would be conjectural and would burden the public with unjust and unnecessary increases in the midst of soaring prices.

“With continued lack of transparency in the rate rebasing process and petitions, water companies could make another attempt to pass on questionable charges to consumers through their water bills,” said former party list representative Teddy Casiño, a convenor of the WPN.

For the 2018-2022 rate rebasing period, Maynilad is seeking an estimated Php12 per cubic meter increase, while Manila Water is seeking and Php8 per cubic meter increase.

Rate rebasing pertains to the periodic computation of water rates based on government’s review of the concessionaires’ petitioned new tariffs.

The latter supposedly covers the companies’ past and projected expenses and a guaranteed rate of return.

However, due to water consumers and advocates’ clamor during the rate rebasing process in 2013, previous water regulators disallowed corporate income tax and other expenses unrelated to the delivery of water from being computed into the water bill.

Casiño said that since 1997 when water utilities were privatized, basic or average water tariffs have soared by as much as 596 percent under Maynilad and 970 percent under Manila Water, contrary to the promise of affordability.

Studies also showed urban poor families end up shelling out thousands of pesos beyond their means for either fetched water from the community pump or sub-meter water access in the absence of direct water connections.

“WPN hopes that the government will look upon the rate rebasing petitions with public interest foremost in mind,” Casiño said. He added that the network will guard against the inclusion in the bill of the Php82-billion uncollected funds which both private companies have pleaded international arbitration courts to demand from the government.

According to Casiño, government’s accession to the companies’ demands would certainly entail higher user fees. “This will double the burden on poor Filipinos who are already struggling with price hikes due to the new taxes,” he said.

Casiño challenged the government to not allow companies to impose onerous fees for profit. # (ibon.org)

Jobs crisis intensifying under Duterte – IBON

Research group IBON said that despite recently hyped growth of 6.8 percent in first quarter 2018 the country’s jobs situation continues to worsen under the Rodrigo Duterte administration.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that the employment rate grew slightly to 94.5 percent in April 2018, while the unemployment rate was lower at 5.5 percent.

The jobs situation seemed to improve as the number of employed Filipinos rose by 625,000 and the number of unemployed declined by 83,000.

The government largely attributed this to increased infrastructure spending.

According to IBON estimates correcting for government underestimation, however, the number of unemployed actually grew by 82,000 to 4.1 million in April 2018 from 4 million in April 2017.

Official unemployment figures do not reflect discouraged workers or those who have dropped out of the labor force after failing to find work after six months.

The agriculture sector, which is the second largest source of employment among the country’s sectors, had the most job losses, said the group.

Official data shows that the number of employed in agriculture fell by 723,000 to 9.8 million in April 2018 from 10.5 million in April 2017.

The sector has been plagued with job losses for the past four consecutive rounds of the labor force survey.

IBON also noted that the agriculture, hunting and forestry subsector lost 558,000 jobs, while fisheries lost 134,000.

The fisheries subsector had notable job losses for all labor force survey rounds under the Duterte government.

Poor quality work or jobs that are insecure, lack benefits and have low wages persists, said the group.

The number of underemployed or those looking for additional work increased by 466,000 from around 6.5 million in April 2017 to 6.9 million in April 2018.

IBON noted that among underemployed persons, those who worked 40 hours and over in a week grew by 758,000 from 2.4 million last year to 3.2 million this year.

The growing underemployment despite the increase in full-time work may indicate that much of reported full-time work still does not give enough income for the employed to meet their basic needs.

The number of part-time workers who worked less than 40 hours in a week decreased but still comprised 52.5 percent of total underemployed in April 2018.

The group also noted that nearly half or 47.1% of underemployed for this round were in the services sector, 32.4 percent in agriculture, and 20.5 percent in the industry sector.

Both services and industry sectors registered increases in underemployed persons from April last year.

IBON said that government has been content with minimal job generation in the non-productive sectors such as the kind offered during job fairs.

According to the group, government should instead ensure sustainable and decent jobs and livelihoods for Filipinos.

This can be done by embarking on a solid economic program that genuinely boosts the agriculture and fisheries sectors and develops the country’s vastly rural economy to build strong and vibrant domestic industries. #

Stop over-relying on foreign investments, government told

The Rodrigo Duterte government should not depend on foreign investments for economic progress and job generation soon after the enactment of the Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act, research group IBON said.

The Ease of Doing Business Act or Republic Act (RA) 11032, signed into law last May 28, aims to simplify the application process for the establishment of businesses in the country.

Proponents say that RA 11032 aims to attract more foreign investments.

IBON said however that even after several decades of rising foreign investments, domestic industries and agriculture remain lagging while the Filipino people continue to be mired in a poor jobs situation.

Foreign direct investments (FDI) have grown by 391 percent from US$664 million in 2013 to US$3.3 billion in 2017.

But most of these investments have gone to foreign export enclave manufacturing, business process outsourcing, commercial and residential real estate, and transport infrastructure.

These areas are profitable for foreign and local big business, but not necessarily beneficial to the country’s economic development, said the group.

IBON explained that investments have remained scarce in domestic industries and agriculture sectors that are much-needed for sustainable and genuine growth and job generation.

For instance, agriculture only received 0.6 percent (US$19.6 million) of total FDI in 2017.

Meanwhile, the gross domestic product (GDP) share of agriculture declined from 10.5 percent in 2013 to 8.5 percent in 2017.

Manufacturing remains stagnant with minimal change from its 22.8 percent GDP share in 2013 to 23.6 percent in 2017.

Rising FDI has not translated into improved job generation.

IBON noted that the number of employed Filipinos fell by 663,000 from 40.3 million in 2017 from the previous year, which is the biggest contraction in employment in 20 years.

The labor force participation rate (LFPR) also dropped to 63.7 percent, the lowest in 20 years when it was 63.1 percent in 1985 during the severe economic crisis.

More recent official labor data for the first quarter of 2018 shows that there are over one million underemployed despite higher employment and lower unemployment.

Before RA 11032 was signed, the World Competitiveness Report showed that the Philippines’ attractiveness to corporations wanting to do business here was diminishing.

The country’s ranking plunged by nine slots, reportedly the biggest drop in Asia, due to employment concerns and poor social infrastructure.

IBON however said that instead of focusing on attracting foreign investments, the Philippine government should first ensure its control over key local industries, utilities and services, as well as place national interest and public welfare above local and foreign big business interests.

For the country to truly benefit from foreign investments, these should be planned in accordance with genuine domestic development, with close government monitoring and regulation, said the group. #

 

Php750 minimum wage possible, non-inflationary and good for the economy–​IBON​

Contrary to government and big employers’ claims, research group IBON said that raising minimum wages nationwide to Php750 is doable, need not spike prices further, and will benefit millions of Filipino workers and the economy.

The group cited the following reasons:

  1. Raising minimum wages nationwide to Php750 is doable if owners of establishments allow a small portion of their profits to go to their workers instead.

    Firms and the economy as a whole have more than enough profits to support this.

    Data from the 2015 Annual Survey of Philippine Business and Industry (ASPBI) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shows that the 34,740 establishments employing 20 or more have Php1.7 trillion in total profits and 4.5 million employees.

    Raising the average daily basic pay of wage and salary workers from the nationwide average of Php378.71 to Php750 transfers just Php473.2 billion to workers’ pockets, which is only a 28.3 percent decrease in profits.

    Workers will meanwhile get to take home an additional Php8,076 per month on average.

    This still falls short of the family living wage and does not necessarily bring everyone up to a decent standard of living but such an increase will provide immediate relief to millions of Filipino workers and their families.

  2. Raising minimum wages nationwide to Php750 will not necessarily hike inflation. Prices need not go up and workers need not be laid off if employers accept the slight cut in profits.

  3. As it is, wages are not even keeping up with the rising productivity of workers so their ever-growing contribution to the economy increases employer profits more than improves workers’ welfare. For instance, according to the Labor Productivity Statistics of the PSA, the contribution of each worker to total gross domestic product (GDP) increased from Php196,179 in 2015 to Php198,215 in 2016 (up by 2.2 percent). This means that the average daily contribution of each worker to the economy amounts to some Php759.44 per day, which is more than double the average daily basic pay and more than the proposed national minimum wage.

  4. The economy will also benefit by increasing workers’ purchasing power and aggregate demand which stimulates higher production and increases economic activity. Raising minimum wages nationwide also reduces inequality by transferring wealth overly concentrated in a few to millions of workers and their families.

According to IBON, the country’s largest corporations and the wealthiest families owning these can easily absorb the substantial wage hike.

Smaller producers in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) will also be able to afford the wage hike with government support such as immediately providing cheap and easy credit, giving marketing support, nurturing locally-integrated supply chains, and improving their scientific and technological capabilities.

MSMEs will also benefit from increased worker demand for their goods and services in the domestic market, said the group. #

Substantial wage hike urgent, gov’t told

Research group IBON said that the government’s recently announced plan to respond to labor’s clamor for an increase in the minimum wage is welcome but underscored that this move is urgent amid rising prices.

The group said that the hike should be meaningful enough to keep up with accelerating inflation and worsening poverty.

Amid the three-year-high first quarter inflation, widely perceived to be caused by the government’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) among other factors, and labor’s demand for a wage hike, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said that a wage increase is coming up within the month.

According to IBON, it is urgent for government to ensure the legislation of a minimum wage hike that is sufficient for the working people to cope with the rising cost of goods and services.

Recent price spikes have been brought about by government’s own market-oriented policies such as the oil deregulation and tax reform laws that press prices up while wages remain low.

The group however stressed that the wage increase should be substantial, as the recent inflation rate will only continue to erode a paltry increase.

IBON explained that despite the last increase of Php21 in October 2017, which raised the National Capital Region (NCR) minimum wage to Php512 from Php491 per day, the real value has eroded by Php16.25 from Php464.19 in October 2017 to Php447.94 as of April 2018.

IBON also noted that the TRAIN has inflicted a heavy blow on the workers’ purchasing power as the real value of the NCR minimum wage lost a significant Php18.79 since the Duterte administration took office in July 2016.

According to IBON, initially increasing the minimum wage nationwide to at least Php750 as recently proposed by progressive lawmakers is the more practical measure.

This will allow wage earners to cope with inflation and increase their purchasing capacity.

It will also help bridge the gap between the nominal minimum wage and the family living wage (FLW) of Php1,173.14 in the NCR, for instance, as of April 2018 computed by IBON.

While the amount still falls short of the FLW, a Php750 minimum wage can be an initial important step towards increased economic activity and more vibrant economic growth that shall ensure a more stable price situation, said the group. #